A few weeks ago, back when CHRIS STILL WORKED HERE, the firm announced its upcoming Global Day of Service. CHRIS decided that Lauren and I should join her in signing up for some organization that has to do with trees.
“It’ll be great!” she said. “We can hug trees!” she said. And Lauren and I blindly followed*. And then you know what happened? CHRIS LEFT BEFORE GLOBAL DAY OF SERVICE EVEN HAPPENED!
*(To be fair, the fact that there were free Leona’s Ice Cream Sandwiches available at the sign-up event may have been what actually swayed us.)
Last week, Lauren and the rest of the people in our group received an email saying that we would be mulching in the business district of Bloomfield (a Pittsburgh neighborhood right outside of downtown). That seemed OK to me. I imagined us sprinkling mulch upon tiny saplings, blowing a kiss at it, and then moving on to the next one.
On my way to work yesterday, I was on the phone with Henry and he asked what it was exactly that I was going to be doing that day.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged, even though he wasn’t there to see it. “MULCHING, whatever MULCHING is.”
“Oh my god,” Henry laughed. “Please tell me where you’re going to be so I can come watch.”
I didn’t understand at the time what this meant.
Later that morning, I found out that another co-worker volunteered on Monday for the same organization and was so sore, she had to work from home. I laughed about it, because please. I couldn’t imagine any charitable organization expecting law firm slugs to do any heavy-lifting. I mean, when Lauren and I volunteered at the Food Bank last year, we basically just looked at cans of food for three hours and talked about how great Nutella is.
(Seriously, how great is Nutella?)
Clearly this co-worker was exaggerating. I mean, obviously. And she apparently was pulling vines out of a hillside and not mulching, like we would be doing. You know, drizzling down pocketfuls of mulch onto trees like sprinkles on an ice cream cone. Because that’s what I was going to be doing all day, twirling all around beneath the beaming sun, singing Emarosa songs in my head.
But then I started to panic.
“Why am I starting to think this is actually some sort of chain gang?” I cried to Mean Amber, who wants me to write an entire blog post explaining how she’s not actually mean at all, and do you see how bossy she is?!
Lauren was likewise freaking out and we collectively rued the day that we signed our souls away for a fucking ice cream sandwich.
(Albeit, a damn fine ice cream sandwich. Mine was blueberry ice cream inside a snickerdoodle! It was delightful, snickerish, and doodley.)
AND THEN I found out at 11:45 that we were leaving at 12:05 and not 1:00 like I thought (because instead of reading emails, I like to play a game called Guess & Assume), so I didn’t have time to eat lunch! I figured I would be OK, though. I’d just eat when we got back at 4, that’s all. I forget to eat a lot of days so it wouldn’t be anything new.
THE BUS RIDE
Lauren and I were the first ones on the shuttle bus and I was starting to feel giddy, like we were going on a field trip and oh, what sorts of adventures were we about to have? It doesn’t take much to excite me.
The bus loaded up fairly quickly. It was mostly all people from other departments. There were only 4 of us reppin’ the 10th floor, and one of the 4 was missing: Patrick. Finally, I spotted him strolling casually toward the bus, eating a peach like a goddamn farmer.
I lost it, just totally interrupted Lauren with my chuckle-vomit. Patrick was the last one to get on the bus, and he ever so calmly strode to an empty seat adjacent from me, and went right back to eating his peach.
“What?” he asked, catching me laughing.
“Nothing,” I wheezed. “Just the way you’re eating that peach!”
“What’s wrong with how I’m eating my peach?” he asked seriously.
“I mean, nothing. It’s just funny because you’re so casual about it,” I tried to explain, wiping away crumbs of cachinnation from my mouth.
“How should I eat my peach?” he pressed, and I was like OMG JUST FORGET IT.
Patrick and the Peach.
Meanwhile, the shuttle driver was forcing people to get out their phones and put his number in it, because he wasn’t going to be sitting around waiting for our philanthropic asses, OK? Lauren and I just sat there and made no effort to take down his number, but Patrick was ALL OVER IT.
The driver, whose name was either Dale or Gale or Nail, told us that the group of volunteers he picked up for the morning session was too large and they had to get a bigger truck.
So then I started picturing a dump truck hauling all of the law firm volunteers to the site on a bed of mulch. Meanwhile, Patrick was trying to get us to buy his house. He actually lives in the same neighborhood as me, so we spoke briefly of Purple Pants because he knows her too.
Then Dale/Nail/Gale pulled over because he thought he got a flat tire and someone in the front said, “That was just that lady you ran over,” and I started cracking up because riding on buses reminds me of going on vacation tours and I get super slaphappy.
Our valiant driver booted us out onto some corner of Bloomfield. At our feet was a mountain of bagged mulch, wheelbarrows, enticing tools, and four people in fluorescent yellow t-shirts.
“There’s a guy in a ponytail,” Lauren said offhandedly. “He’s probably going to be cool.”
And also, a woman.
“Oh my god, who’s THAT GUY?” I sighed dreamily as my eyes fell upon the most beautiful blue collar of them all. “I claim him!” His name tag said Jake.
The leader of Trees gave us a brief rundown of the organization while we all passed around sunblock. I showcased my competency right off the bat by inadvertently squirting too much into my hands. I proceeded to smear all of this into my skin, looking like I was getting ready to go to a costume party as Powder.
“Oh my god,” Lauren laughed, spooning some lotion off my arm with her fingers. Some stranger from another department followed suit and I felt so violated. Then, in a moment of HOW AM I GOING TO RID MYSELF OF THIS LOTION, I slapped some onto Patrick’s arm. Lucas, rounding out our 10th floor quadrant representation, gave me the universal “I’m good!” motion as I turned my splooge-hands toward him.
I had nowhere else to rub my hands so I just shoved them into my orange work gloves, sunblock-splooge and all.
WHEN IT WASN’T SO BAD
Jake took the reins from whatever the non-hot guy’s name was and gave us a short demonstration of what we were going to do which, newsflash, seemed more like aggressive weeding and less like “mulching.” Jake said since there were 20 of us, he was going to put us into groups of 5. I yelped audibly enough for Jake to hear and pressed myself closer into my 10th floor group. Jake laughed. “OK, some of you have friends here, so you can make your own groups if you want.”
We needed one extra person so a girl named Amy was brave and came over to join us.
“And I guess I’ll just stick with your group,” Jake said, to which Lauren and I exchanged looks of “FUCK YES.” Also, we got to wear neon yellow vests, and I was obnoxiously happy about that. I LOVE NEON.
Aside from feeling self-conscious because passers-by were ogling us, mulching started out OK. In fact, I couldn’t believe how easy it was! We worked our way down one side of the street, picking out trash from tree beds, pulling out the small assortment of weeds poking through the old mulch, and then putting down a new layer of mulch. Sometimes we didn’t have to put down new mulch at all! I was having a lot of fun using my mulching weapon too, which I had silently named Walden. (After Bradley Scott Walden, duh. Google that shit.) I quickly discovered that hacking away murderously at unsightly weeds was almost as satisfying as hacking away at the faces of fake Mexicans from Ohio*. Therapeutic. Cathartic. EXHILARATING. If I wasn’t wearing my murder gloves, I would have texted Henry and told him that I was quitting my job to become a landscaper.
*(Petty jabs at ex-BFF never get old for me; carry on.)
While working on one tree bed in particular, we observed that the number of cigarette butts had increased exponentially and then someone pointed out that we were in front of a bar. A nice, light hearted moment before things went downhill.
Then this guy ^^^ stood around and observed, like what we were doing was any of his business! GOD.
This was before Lauren savagely whacked Amy in the head with the wooden handle of a rake.
After we had worked our way through our designated area, Jake exclaimed, “Wow! You guys are working so fast. Let’s move across the street and help that group over there.” So we were feeling really heroic at that point. I was, anyway. Like a landscaping bad ass. Where’s my fucking cape?
During this time, I made the rookie mistake of wrongly identifying a rose hip bush as a plant full of under-developed persimmons, but don’t worry: Patrick made sure I knew I was an idiot for thinking that. Then Lauren pricked herself on one of the rose hip thorns like this is some goddamn fairy tale and then we had to hear about it for the rest of all time!
This was after some random lady stopped and asked what we had done to get ourselves put on a chain gang, ugh. WE’RE NOT A CHAIN GANG! WE’RE VOLUNTEERS!
It didn’t take long to finish primping the trees on the next block, so Jake decided that we were going to walk back to home base, load up our wheelbarrows with some mulch, and then continue on down the street to meet up with another group. This sounded great, like maybe we were nearing the end of our service. Then I made the mistake of looking at my phone and seeing that it was only 2:00pm. We still had two more hours?! How could that be possible.
Somehow, I got strapped with one of the wheelbarrows and it was just a disaster, so Lauren traded her armful of rakes with me and I was glad that she hadn’t fallen into an eternal sleep after getting pricked by the rose thorn because then who would have helped me? Patrick would have just dragged me along into some brutal military cadence while barking about how I’m a pansy ass bitch motherfucker and I better get my pissy shit together and MARCH.
Once we made it back to the Mt. Everest of mulch bags, Jake realized that the other group was too far away for us to transport the mulch via wheelbarrows, so he demanded that we pick up the bags and load them onto the back of his truck and then he would just drive everything down. Physically, I was fine up until this point. I mean, it was hot out so I was sweating a little bit, but it wasn’t like, “OMG I’M GOING TO DIE.” Until I started lifting bags of mulch. Now, I have moderate back problems and I have known this ever since I had to quit playing tennis because of it when I was 16. So I should have been like, “Hey guy, I’m going to excuse myself from this portion of the day’s activities.”
But no. I’m stubborn and lifted like 8 of them in succession because why? For what? Was there a prize? A medal? NO. JUST 48 HOURS OF CRIPPLING BACK PAIN. The day went from leisurely weeding to recreating the goddamn work site scene in The Ten Commandments.
The pain was so immediate that once I lifted the first bag, I knew there was no way I was getting it up into the bed of that damn truck, so I had to pass them off to Lucas.
Thank you, Lucas.
THE LUCAS INTERLUDE
In the 4.5 years that I’ve been at The Law Firm, I have had very minimal interaction with Lucas, so I was excited to be tree tenders together. I learned a lot about him, too. Such as: he has a tree in his front yard.
And…he has a tree in his front yard.
MULCHING GETS REAL
One of the other Trees people gave us very sketchy directions which had us crossing over a major intersection and getting trapped on a cement island for an indefinite amount of time. Thankfully, Patrick was there to lead us to safety.
“Don’t cross yet. Wait for the walk sign.”
Once we made it to the other side of the street, it was pretty clear that we were no longer in the quaint business district of Bloomfield anymore, but more so The Shady Garage borough. We somehow accumulated a lady from one of the other groups, and also three rough men in street clothes who were apparently being paid to do what we were naively doing for free and made some comment to Patrick and Lucas about how lucky they were to get to have women on their team and I was like “We’re going to get abducted and sold as sex mules. In our fucking neon vests. That’s the only way this day could get any worse.”
It was a concrete jungle down on this end: the tree beds were triple the size of the ones we had grown accustomed to and the weeds grew tall and dense and had super thick stems and deep roots. I hadn’t recovered from lifting mulch bags, so when I knelt down, I started slapping the ground with my mulching weapon in a petulant manner. My energy was gone, my back crunched every time I moved, and I HADN’T EATEN LUNCH AND WAS FEELING FAINT.
But I kept going on because I didn’t want to be That Person.
I know, since when, right?
Jake pulled up in his stupid truck and spouted off some obligatory praises, like, “Yeah. You guys are doing great. Woo. Dig those weeds. Spread that mulch. Go team, go.” You guys. I watched Patrick drop his mulching weapon and begin to shut down at one point.
Patrick has been IN AFGHANISTAN, you guys. Patrick has been IN THE WAR.
PATRICK HAS SHRAPNEL ON HIS DESK AND EVEN HE WAS LIKE FUCK THIS SHIT.
“Remember when we had to pick up all those cigarette butts?” I quietly asked Lauren. “Those were the days.”
I don’t even want to think about how many dogs and drunks have pissed on the trees we were tending to.
After about an hour of hacking down the set of Little Shop of Horrors, Jake came back and said we could cross the street and join the other three groups on that side, which is when we discovered that not only were their tree beds way more suburban, they weren’t even weeding the whole thing! Just narrow strips along the tree trunk! It was APPALLING and we were vocal about our irritation, too.
Oh, and those bastards also had the cooler full of water with them the whole time, too. So, three hours into it, I finally got to have a fucking drink. THANKS FOR THE HOSPITALITY, TREES.
“Hey Lauren, remember last year when we volunteered at the Food Bank and they were practically begging us to eat their snacks and drink their coffee?”
I think Lauren’s response to this was a handful of tears.
Finally, it was almost 4:00 and I have never been so happy to see Dale/Nail/Gale, and the Law Firm, and my non-laborious desk work.
I wish I could go back in time and punch myself in the throat at the exact moment I felt excited when Jake picked my group.
Later that night, when I complained for the 548678th time about how exhausted I was, Chooch rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah we know. Because you had to ‘do mulch’ all day. We get it.”